NFL injury mailbag: Encouraging updates for Kyler Murray, De’Von Achane, and more

In this week’s column, Greg Scholz has positive updates for Kyler Murray and De’Von Achane , a discouraging assessment of Aaron Jones … and more.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick glossary of terms commonly used by Inside Injuries:

  • IRC = Injury Risk Category (three designations: “Low,” “Elevated,” “High”) — the overall likelihood a player will get injured
  • HPF = Health Performance Factor (Peak, Above Average, Below Average, Poor) — our metric to predict player performance
  • ORT = Optimal Recovery Time — the amount of time a player needs to fully recover from an injury (not the same as how much time they will actually miss).

Q: Can I trust starting Kyler Murray in his first week back if it happens to be Week 10? I was hoping he would play at least one game before Jalen Hurts’ bye week to potentially shake the rust off. — Alex V.

Murray is trending in a very solid direction and his numbers are in a great spot. His Injury Risk is still High, which is normal in the early weeks post-return from ACL surgery, but his Health Performance Factor is Peak and continues to climb with each practice he logs.

From a production standpoint, he should fit very well into the new Cardinals offense. They’ve hit a bit of a wall as of late, but they looked surprisingly competent in the early weeks of the season and still hold a Top 5 rushing offense. Murray is a better passer than Dobbs, and Arizona is likely going to prefer he throws more than he runs, at least initially.

You’re right to mention Murray needing to shake some rust off. Non-contact ACL injuries can generate some serious trust issues between the player and the knee. For a player like Murray, it may be hard for him to look at an opening in the defense and immediately jump at it without considering that’s how he ruptured his ACL in the first place.

Q: When will De’Von Achane be back, and what is his prognosis going forward? Can I trade some of my RB depth before the deadline and count on him to back-fill the guy I trade? — Kris A.

Achane’s metrics are tracking really well and we expect he will return in Week 11 after Miami’s bye. That said, we don’t anticipate a huge game in his first week back.

Achane sprained his MCL, which is the ligament that sits on the inside of the knee. Its primary function is to keep the knee from bending too far inwards. As a result, the MCL plays a major role in lateral movement stability.

As for why we don’t anticipate a huge game from Achane in his return from IR, it mainly comes down to how these injuries heal and if players have a mental roadblock. It can be difficult for players to trust the knee, at least initially, because — using an MCL sprain as an example — a sprain to a ligament is a short distance from a fully ruptured ligament. That thought can cause players to go down a little easier, make them less likely to make an aggressive cut, or just keep them from playing like themselves.

Additionally, there may be some stiffness in the knee, especially when it comes to those aforementioned lateral movements. It’s something that should be addressed in rehab, but simulating game action is never going to be 1:1.

Provided Achane’s rehab is successful, there’s little doubt that Miami is going to get the most out of him, or at least similar production to before he went down. His early numbers were a bit of a statistical outlier, so expect some natural regression. Beyond that, I think you should feel comfortable moving some of that RB depth.

Q: What’s your outlook for Aaron Jones’ hamstring injury for the rest of the year? I have options at RB, but I can’t get a feel for value on him given the Packers’ offensive struggles and AJ Dillon’s production. — Jim C.

Looking at Jones, it’s likely that this hamstring injury pops up again sometime this year. He first injured his hamstring in Week 1. Injuries like this, occurring early in the season, rarely resolve mid-season. This is especially true with players who have a history of hamstring issues, like Jones.

That’s not to say he’s guaranteed to land on the IR or something like that, but temper your expectations moving forward. Given the role the hamstring plays in nearly every lower body athletic movement, it’s inevitable that it will affect Jones’ efficiency considering it’s unlikely to heal completely.

Additionally, to your point, Green Bay’s offense hasn’t looked good and Jones’ lack of availability is apparent. Now, the Packers could start to give him more opportunities as the team tries to turn things around, but the extra plays designed for him would mean increased opportunity for risk. Basically, he should be considered high risk, medium reward.

From a metrics standpoint, we still consider him 15 days from Optimal Recovery. His Injury Risk is High, and will remain so for the next four weeks at least. His Health Performance Factor is Poor, but it is steadily improving.

Q: When is Justin Jefferson coming back and how much drop-off can be expected due to injury or the change in QB? Is he still a WR1 upon return? — Kik K.

It’s still a strong possibility that Jefferson remains out through Minnesota’s bye, however his metrics are getting better. Additionally, he doesn’t have an extensive hamstring injury history, which works in his favor. Our data suggests he is currently still 19 days from Optimal Recovery.

Given it’s still early in Jefferson’s career, Minnesota should do everything in their power to mitigate future risk. If that means keeping him out until they are certain he’s 100% healthy, so be it. He’s a generational talent. If he even looks half a step slower in practice, he shouldn’t touch the field. When he does return, there should be no doubt he’s still WR1.

To your point about quarterback, Kirk Cousins is out and as good as Joshua Dobbs was with Arizona, it may take some time for him and Jefferson to get on the same page. If I had to pick which will have the bigger impact: the injury or the QB, I’d say the QB. Again, though, that’s me assuming the Vikings take every single precaution before activating Jefferson.

Q: Pre- and post-bye, how will Matthew Stafford’s injury affect his performance and injury risk… if he plays this week? And if he doesn’t? — Ben G.

I’ll start with the Injury Risk. Stafford sitting in Week 9 is his best option. Thumb injuries on the throwing hand of a quarterback are a recipe for disaster. Though it’s a different injury, Justin Fields is a great recent example. When the thumb is injured, it makes gripping the football both difficult and painful. If he’s feeling significant pain in the UCL and continues to play through it, he could be adding additional stress to the ligament, delaying healing times and impacting performance.

Performance-wise, if he does play this week, it would be safest for the Rams to draw up some quick, short throws when they need Stafford to pass. With that, the ground game should be a major focus. There is plenty of potential for Stafford to be productive with these kinds of plays, but the Packers defense could pick up on it rather quickly. If he sits this week and returns in Week 12 after Los Angeles’ bye, it should be close to business as usual for Stafford. Additionally, his Injury Risk will drop thanks to having two weeks off and his Health Performance Factor will reach closer to Above Average levels. His Optimal Recover Time is currently 18 days.

Q: How much time do you think Darren Waller will miss and do you think his effectiveness is done for the season? Is Johnathan Taylor hurt and how serious is it? — Daniel C.

Waller is toeing a very fine line health-wise. There are major concerns surrounding his hamstring considering his lengthy history with these sorts of injuries, and his metrics reflect that. His Injury Risk is High and his Health Performance Factor is Poor. A stint on the IR is a possibility as well given New York’s Week 13 bye. If he does receive five weeks of rest, his HPF would rise back into Peak territory. If he returns earlier, expect limited production.

As for Taylor, the Colts have not addressed an injury and he’s been a full participant in practice this week. Based on that, it’s unlikely that he’s injured, and if he is, it’s even less likely that it’s serious. There was one play towards the end of the first half during Week 8 where it looked like Taylor got up a little gingerly and hobbled in the huddle, but it appears that was nothing.

(Photo of De’Von Achane: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

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